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Friday, 14 February, 2003, 18:46 GMT
France stance on Iraq hardens
Dominique de Villepin
De Villepin believes inspections should be continued
European nations who oppose a rush to military action against Iraq have responded confidently to a report by United Nations weapons inspectors to the Security Council.

In a speech which drew a rare show of applause from many in the chamber, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said that inspections were making progress and should be given more time to succeed.

The option of inspections had not been taken to its conclusion, he said, adding that force could only be used as a last resort.

There is an alternative to war, disarming Iraq through inspections

Dominique de Villepin
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov also called for more time for inspections, saying that substantial progress had been made and this could not be discounted.

Mr Ivanov was also applauded, prompting council chairman Joschka Fischer to call the chamber to order.

The United Kingdom and Spain, who have backed United States calls for military action in the event of Iraqi non-compliance, said the threat of force was still necessary.

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the UN had to keep its nerve and ensure that Iraq fully complied with its obligations.

Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio made the point that the inspectors had not said Baghdad was co-operating fully and unconditionally.

The ministers' speeches followed reports by chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix and International Atomic Energy Authority chairman Mohammed ElBaradei.

Both reports mentioned developments which the inspectors say could indicate a more co-operative approach by Iraq.

'Alternative to war

The BBC's John Sopel in Paris says Mr de Villepin was emboldened by the reports, and gave a carefully crafted speech designed to answer his critics head on.

Gerhard Schroeder
Schroeder: Position to be put to the Security Council
"France believes ... the option of inspections has not been taken to the end," he said, "...and the use of force would be so fraught with risk that it could only be envisioned as a last resort."

"There is an alternative to war, disarming Iraq through inspections," he added.

Mr de Villepin also described France as "an old country" from a continent which had known "wars, occupation and barbarity".

"It has never ceased to stand upright in the face of history and before mankind," he said. "It wishes resolutely to act with all the members of the international community."

Open in new window : Who backs war?
Where key nations stand on Iraq
His remarks were intended as a response to United States Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who described France and Germany as "the old Europe".

'Sufficient majority'

Earlier on Friday, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder repeated his opposition to military action.

Mr Schroeder said the foreign ministers of France, Russia and Germany would present a common position after the reports were made.

Speaking after a meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Goeran Persson, he said he hoped there would be a "sufficient majority" in support of the view.

The comments came as Austria, a neutral country which broadly supports the French and German position, withdrew permission for US troops and equipment to transit across its territory.

Austrian Defence Minister Herbert Scheibner said the ban would remain in force unless there is a second Security Council resolution on Iraq.

It means that US troops based in Germany will have to be taken to Italy for transfer to the Gulf region.


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13 Feb 03 | Media reports
03 Feb 03 | Europe
08 Jan 03 | Europe
29 Jan 03 | Europe
12 Feb 03 | Americas
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